1Th 2:19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
1Th 2:20 For ye are our glory and joy.
In these verses Paul speaks of the rewards for those who win souls, and the fruit of the labor of preaching the Gospel.
The Adam Clarke commentary gives a good description of what Paul's mindset was regarding this:
"I can have no prospects from earth; I have forsaken all for the Gospel; and esteem every thing it can afford as dross and dung, that I may gain Christ. Why then should I continually labor at the risk of my life, preaching the Gospel? Is it not to get your souls saved, that ye may be my crown of rejoicing in the day of Christ? For this I labor; and, having planted the Gospel among you, I wish to take every opportunity of watering it, that it may grow up unto eternal life."
In my own service to the Lord, I can understand Paul's heart on this. He laid everything down, took up his cross, and followed; wherever Christ led him. And the paths he trod were not path's of ease and leisure-they were wrought with many perils, sufferings, and persecutions-for the sake of the souls God would put before him, to give him opportunity to speak the gospel to them-that some might be saved.
When I look back over my life, I remember some who the Lord gave me the privilege of witnessing to, and praying with them to receive Christ into their hearts and life-this is my crown of rejoicing in this life, and hopefully in the next. There's nothing in scripture that talks about numbers, or how many we bring into the kingdom of God, the Lord doesn't judge our success by numbers, but by faithfulness in what we've been given to do. Paul's years in prison were just as productive as when he was traveling and preaching-in a different capacity. In Paul's life and experiences we can get a glimpse of how our own ministries may change, and our tasks be altered. Whatever opposition and obstruction Satan intended to hinder Paul-he used even that to further the Gospel while shut up in prison, by writing the epistles, which are for the edification and learning of the body of Christ, and all who would believe, to this day. The bars of prisons cannot restrict the Holy Spirit.
Ministry is not categorized in one "box" for life-we need to be flexible in the hands of the Lord, and change and move with the "pillar of fire", when the Lord shows us it's time to move on to another phase of His calling on our life.
1 Thessalonians 2:20
For ye are our glory and joy - Ye are the seal of our apostleship; your conversion and steadiness are a full proof that God hath sent us. Converts to Christ are our ornaments; persevering believers, our joy in the day of judgment.
1. In the preceding chapter we have the character and marks of a genuine pastor laid down in such a manner as not to be misunderstood. Every man who preaches the Gospel should carefully read this chapter and examine himself by it. Most preachers, on reading it conscientiously, will either give up their place to others, or purpose to do the work of the Lord more fervently for the future. He who expects nothing but the approbation of Christ, will labor for Christ; and he, who has the glory of his Master only in view, will ever have his Master’s presence and blessing. Those who enter into this work for human applause or secular emolument, may have their reward; but in that, one smile of approbation from Christ is not included.
2. God, for reasons best known to himself, often permits the most pious and benevolent purposes of his servants to be frustrated for a time. It is well that the good purpose was in the heart; but God knows the fittest time and place to bring it to effect. Satan is ever opposing all that is pure, good, and benevolent and he appears frequently to succeed; but this is not really the case: if at any time he prevents the followers of God from bringing a pious purpose into effect, that was the time in which it could not have been done to secure its full effect. Let the purpose be retained, and the best time and place will be duly provided. As Satan constantly endeavors to oppose every good work, no wonder he is found opposing a good purpose, even at the very time that God sees it improper to bring it to the intended effect. Man proposes, but God disposes.
3. The apostle speaks of the wrath coming upon the Jews: it was about twenty years after this that their city was destroyed, their temple burnt, more than a million of them destroyed, their civil polity utterly subverted, and what remained of this wretched nation scattered to all the winds of heaven; and in this state, without a nation, without a temple, without worship, and apparently without any religion, they continue, to this day, a monument of God’s displeasure, and a proof of the Divine inspiration both of the prophets and apostles, who, in the most explicit manner, had predicted all the evils which have since befallen them. Their crimes were great; to these their punishment is proportioned. For what end God has preserved them distinct from all the people of the earth among whom they sojourn, we cannot pretend to say; but it must unquestionably be for an object of the very highest importance. In the meantime, let the Christian world treat them with humanity and mercy. (end of commentary)
In summary, we can see that the crown of rejoicing is in the end product of a life lived faithful to the work God has called the servant-souls brought into the kingdom. Many missionaries in foreign lands served their entire lives, seeing none come to Christ, but who did after their death. These I believe will not miss receiving this crown of rejoicing- but will be found faithful, and receive their full reward.